Esports are passionately followed by millions of fans around the globe on a daily basis. With the games featuring a wide range of formats, competition types and schedules, Field Level Media is producing a series of overviews to introduce you to the most popular titles, teams and personalities.
Today, a look at an esports classic: League of Legends.
League of Legends (or LoL) is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game played in the third person.
Teams of five players battle each other on a single map called Summoner’s Rift. The map has three main pathways connecting both teams’ bases called lanes: top lane, mid lane and bottom lane. In each lane, teams have structures called towers or turrets that shoot at enemy units.
Once the game starts, computer-controlled units called minions or “creeps” spawn and run down the lanes at regular intervals, attacking any enemy unit they encounter. The minions can be killed for gold and experience.
Between each lane is an area referred to as the “jungle,” where camps of neutral monsters can be killed for gold, experience and occasionally buffs (temporary stat boosts or effects).
A river runs through the center of the map, dividing it into near-symmetrical halves. The bottom-oriented team (the one whose base is in the bottom left) is referred to as “blue side” while the top-oriented team (top right) is called “red side.”
The object of the game is to destroy the opponents’ towers until reaching the opponents’ Nexus, a giant crystalline structure in the heart of a team’s base, and destroying it.
Before each game starts, teams take turns banning and then picking which characters, or champions, they will play. Each champion has unique abilities and stats, including a powerful ultimate ability unlocked when the champion reaches level six in-game.
The drafting phase is where a majority of the strategy gets laid out for each team, as drafting from the list of over 140 champions is essential to giving the team a good chance of winning. While the sheer number of champions is large, in professional play, only about 20-30 of the champions see regular play.
In addition to the plethora of champions, LoL has several customization options for players to fine-tune their playstyle. There are runes, which are minor or sometimes major passive abilities selected before the game starts. Every player in the world, pro or not, has access to the exact same set of runes, and differences in runes can result in vastly different playstyles for the same champion.
Players can spend in-game gold on items to augment their champions’ stats and abilities. The combination of runes and items are commonly referred to as “builds” that can dictate which heroes are popular in pro play and which don’t see any playtime.
In each five-player team, there are five roles or positions that must be filled: top laner, jungler, mid laner, bottom laner and support.
Mid laners are the core of any team, since the central location of the mid lane means that the players in that lane have an easier time getting around the map. Mid laners often play heroes with high amounts of wave clear, or ability to kill several minions at once with area-of-effect spells.
Top laners have a variety of heroes that are regularly played, including frontline tanks with high health and resistances to high-damage carry champions.
Similarly, junglers, who patrol the jungle and help their laners secure kills and objectives, play a swath of heroes who can quickly clear jungle camps.
Bottom laners usually play low-health, high-damage champions that require several items to become terrifying damage-dealing threats.
Supports play in the bottom lane with bottom laners, helping them through the early stages of the game in a 2-vs.-2 lane. Supports can range from enchanters, who buff allies and provide healing and shields, to tanks that can absorb heavy punishment or start fights for their team.
Riot Games runs multiple concurrent franchised leagues across the globe for several regions. Historically, the four strongest regions have been South Korea, China, Europe and North America. These regions usually get three spots at the World Championships, with the regions’ third seeds competing in a play-in tournament to qualify.
The LoL esports calendar is divided into two splits (seasons): Spring and Summer. The format for each league varies, but there usually are a series of regular-season games leading into a postseason. The winners of the Spring Split are then invited to an international tournament called the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI).
At the end of the Summer Split, for the major regions, the team that wins the Split gets the region’s No. 1 seed for the World Championships. Each region has different ways of determining the remaining seeds.
South Korea has been dominant historically, winning every World Championship from 2013-17, but the last two world titles were claimed by Chinese teams, with European sides finishing as runners-up in both occasions. North America has struggled throughout the history of League of Legends, never winning a Riot-hosted international tournament and having all three seeds fail to qualify for the 2019 World Championship knockout-stage playoff bracket.
Teams get paid differing amounts for their performance in their respective regional leagues. At last year’s World Championships in Paris, the total prize pool was $2,225,000 (U.S.). Champions FunPlus Phoenix took home $834,375 while runners-up G2 Esports earned $300,375.
Outside of the tier-1 professional leagues, some regions have tier-2 leagues, or academy leagues, where they can stash and develop talent, similar to how a Major League Baseball franchise would use a Triple-A affiliate.
PLAYERS/TEAMS TO KNOW
Last year’s world champion, FunPlus Phoenix (FPX), represented the Chinese League of Legends Pro League (LPL) as the No. 1 seed. FPX is led by mid laner Tae-sang “Doinb” Kim, an eclectic player known for using unique combinations of champions and builds. While Doinb’s mechanical skill in his role wasn’t up to par with his international contemporaries, his ability to roam around the map and set his team up for success proved to be too much for teams to handle.
Elsewhere in the LPL, 2018 world champions Invictus Gaming have been near the top of the standings for a while now. Led by mid laner Eui-jin “Rookie” Song and top laner Dong-geun “TheShy” Kang, the two of the elite players at their positions, iG are again near the top of the LPL this season.
Further down the standings is Royal Never Give Up, a storied organization led by Chinese megastar bottom laner Zi-Hao “Uzi” Jian, who has been considered top three at his position since his debut in 2012.
In the League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK), legendary mid laner Sang-hyeok “Faker” Lee has been dominant for more than five years with his team, T1. Currently a co-owner of the team, Faker, nicknamed “The Unkillable Demon King,” has led T1 to eight LCK split titles, world championships in 2013, 2015 and 2016, and a second-place finish at the 2017 world championships.
Other important Korean teams include Gen.G, led by long-time bottom laner Jae-hyuk “Ruler” Park, and the relatively new DragonX, formed in 2019 and featuring a mix of young Korean talent and veterans such as former world champion bottom laner Hyuk-kyu “Deft” Kim.
In the League of Legends European Championship (LEC), G2 Esports have been dominant since the start of 2019, winning back-to-back split titles. The combination of mid laner Luka “Perkz” Perkovic and bottom laner Rasmus “Caps” Borregaard Winther make G2 the premier Western team in the scene.
Caps and Perkz traditionally play the same role, but since Caps joined at the start of 2019, the two trade off bottom lane duties. With possibly the two best players playing key skill positions, G2 is able to play free-flowing, fast paced games that leave their opponents reeling.
Caps’ former team, Fnatic, is a historical powerhouse in the region. Fnatic are led by bottom laner and captain Martin “Rekkles” Larsson, who has been playing professionally since 2012.
Finally, North America’s best internationally performing team has been Cloud9. Led this year by top laner Eric “Licorice” Ritchie and bottom laner Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen, Cloud9 hold the honor of having the best international performance from a League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) team with a third/fourth-place finish at the 2018 World Championship.
LCS mainstay Team SoloMid (TSM) had made consistent international appearances until the past two years. TSM are led by mid laner and co-owner Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg.
Last year’s LCS champions, Team Liquid, are currently struggling, but they still have a talented roster, led by North American bottom laner legend Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng.
HOW TO WATCH
Each region has its own broadcasting channel on Twitch.tv. Europe and North America also broadcast on YouTube at the LoL Esports channel, while Korea and China have their own YouTube channels, LCK Global and LPL English, respectively.
–Noah Waltzer (@pairodice), Field Level Media